Creating characters? Where to begin

CastleEvery good story begins with a character your reader wants to follow. You can have the most interesting plot, but if we as readers don’t care about your character, we won’t care about what happens to her, no matter how exciting or heart wrenching.

So how do you develop compelling characters? The answer to that is longer than one blog post (many good books have been written on the subject—see the bottom of the post). But it begins with a process of exploration.

You need some sort of form or structure to use while you are developing your characters. You need to write down your discoveries so you have some consistency in your character and you can refer to it while you’re writing. It’s amazing how much you think you’ll remember that you actually forget. So write it down! Scrivener is a great place to keep all of this information.

Character charts

There are a lot out there, just Google them. Character charts can help you figure out what you need to know about your characters. Some are broad, some feel irrelevant. Try a couple until you find one that seems to work for you.

Personality types

I always start here. Then you can move to different information to help you flesh her out even more. But this gives you information on how they like to function in the world, how they make decisions, what kind of structure they like, all of which will tell you what you need to do to make them uncomfortable.

Google Myers-Briggs and Enneagrams. You’ll find information, charts, and even tests you can take as your character to figure out what their personality is and how they relate to others and, most importantly, how the function under stress.

Character boards

For the more visual person, a board (literal or virtual) of your characters’ rooms, clothes, furniture, anything about their world that helps you step into it. Pictures of your characters can help you visualize them.

Character interviews

Interview your character about the things that could come up in your story. Keep asking why.

Different styles of interviews can elicit different kinds of information. Is it an interrogation? Therapy session? Job interview? Coffee with a friend? Note body language, nervous habits, speech patterns of your characters.

Have one character interview another. The information they relay is likely to be different depending on who is doing the interviewing.

Character diaries

If your character kept a diary or a journal, what would be in it? Give her some journal prompts that relate to the above information you are trying to dig up. How does she respond? Ask “what if” questions?

What does their normal day look like?

Character biographies

Write a biography of your character. Talk about important years, events, hobbies, family.

A twist on this is to write an obituary. What was their family background? Who did they leave behind? What did they accomplish? What were they known for?

These are a few ways to get started on fleshing out your character. Usually you’ll find a few surprises and a couple of gems that will get you started on building your novel.

Keep pressing on!


Deep and Wide:Advanced Fiction Techniques for Making Your Characters Deeper and Your PlotWider, by Susan May Warren

Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins

Writing the BreakoutNovel workbook By Donald Maass

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Margie Lawson classes

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